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London Eye: Rishi Sunak becoming UK PM is nothing short of a miracle

London Eye: Rishi Sunak becoming UK PM is nothing short of a miracle

London Eye: Rishi Sunak becoming UK PM is nothing short of a miracle
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By Sanjay Suri  Oct 25, 2022 10:01:27 AM IST (Updated)

The first response to Rishi Sunak getting the keys to 10 Downing Street everywhere on Monday was simply disbelief. That someone of Indian origin, and a professed and practising Hindu, should be Prime Minister of Britain was unimaginable before.

Just when all seemed lost for Rishi Sunak and speculation rose that he may now quit politics altogether when he was remembered at all, he has returned from abandoned anonymity to become Prime Minister of Britain.

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The first response everywhere on Monday was simply disbelief. That someone of Indian origin, and a professed and practising Hindu, should be Prime Minister of Britain was unimaginable before. It seemed remote even when Rishi Sunak entered the contest at all. He made his comeback after telling Liz Truss who he now replaces as PM, that she was getting it all wrong over tax cuts.
Through the course of Sunday evening and Monday morning, Rishi Sunak gained momentum by the hour, until finally, Penny Mordaunt who had stood briefly and unconvincingly between him and Downing Street conceded minutes before the Monday deadline that she won’t have the numbers.
Mordaunt dropped away after the more threatening Boris Johnson. Johnson and Sunak negotiated an agreement for a while but unproductively. Boris Johnson said in his departing note that he had reached out to Sunak and to Mordaunt but without the response he wanted. Which was a place for them in his cabinet in a unity government. Except that Sunak’s team wanted to offer Johnson a place with Sunak as PM – such was the extent of Sunak’s confidence, based on real growing support, unlike Mordaunt.
One by one all of Boris Johnson’s supporters, and then Mordaunt’s gravitated, and then gathered, in a heap around Sunak. The party members did not get to vote in any second round but indications were clear that he would have their support. He had 43 percent of their vote to 57 percent for Truss. Since then about 40 percent of Truss’s voters surveyed said they regretted their decision.
The election of Sunak is a dramatic historical turnaround symbolically. History hangs heavy over this parliament’s relation with India, and not by way of the usual polite references these days to some ‘shared history’. This was the fountainhead of colonialism, India was Britain’s prize colony. A sense of that history is what makes the election of Sunak as remarkable as it is.
He now sits as Prime Minister in a parliament that sent governors-general, then viceroys to India to rule. The rules and the mandate of the East India Company were made in Parliament, and then through direct rule after 1857. This is the parliament led by a succession of prime ministers that Indian freedom fighters struggled to extract concessions before going on to demand some limited home rule and then finally Independence.
It was this parliament, where Rishi Sunak will now sit as Prime Minister that ensured that generations of Indians died without knowing ever what life could be like away from British rule. Concessions had to be fought inch by inch, generation after generation. They came by way of crumbs like the Minto-Morley reforms that reformed little, and then followed by hammer blows such as the Rowlatt Act. And finally, Winston Churchill would not let go. India won its Independence only after Labour replaced the Conservatives.
For this party to now elect an Indian, a British Indian let’s say, to the position of Prime Minister is miraculous. Sunak took on the seemingly impossible and made it happen. But the greater credit is to Britain itself, for bringing in institutions and developing a culture where Rishi Sunak could be possible.
The symbolic reclamation of Rishi Sunak through a sense of Indian history is just that – the symbolism will not spill over into the politics and the policies of the day under Sunak. Sunak is preparing undoubtedly for some very hard extractions out of India that he has pointed to repeatedly through the hustings when he was debating with Liz Truss.
Primarily this arises from Sunak’s declared commitment to getting rid of illegal Indian migrants, which really means Indian overstayers, believed to be the largest number among foreign overstayers without documents. An agreement was reached earlier to send these people back, but that has never quite been implemented.
The agreement has not been acted on for two principal reasons. One, there is no reliable database to find out just who all these people are, and where. Second, and far more significantly, it’s been just too long now. Many of these people are married, have homes, they have children going to school. It would be severely disruptive to seek to root them out and force them to a place that is not home anymore.
Sunak is expected to link the return of these people to the signing of the free trade agreement, much along the lines raised by former home secretary Suella Braverman. She was persuaded to abandon her opposition to the move, but it is not clear yet whether Sunak will abandon this as she did.
In Sunak India will be dealing with a tough nut – and a tough British nut. Never mind then the history.
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